Life Writing

Exclusive Author Q&A with Jane McVeigh

Writing a Literary Biography

Jane McVeigh, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Roehampton, UK, is writing Richmal Crompton, Author of Just William: A Literary Life (forthcoming). The writing and research process for literary biography can be long, but fulfilling. We caught up with McVeigh to ask her about what is special about literary biography and her process of writing.

Q: Why do you think readers are interested in biography and particularly literary biography?

We tell stories about ourselves and other people every day. In doing so we learn something about ourselves. Biographies, whatever form they take, and whether they are about individuals, relationships or groups of people, reflect on what people are like within a period of history that we may, or may not, know something about.

Writers tell stories that also help us to understand the world and reading about their life and work in a literary biography offers not only an opportunity to find out what they were like, but the extent to which their work may throw light on their life and times. We come to know the world better not only through their writing, but in an appreciation of their professional and personal lives.

Q: What do you find most exciting about the research and writing process?

The thought that I may be the only person at present who has read all of Richmal Crompton's books, which includes forty novels, thirty-eight Just William collections and ten other short story collections, is very exciting. I know I have discovered a treasure trove and that the voice of an undervalued woman writer about whom patriarchal myths have been told is about to be unveiled.

Q: What drew you to writing about Richmal Crompton?

I was fortunate to come across her archive and was hooked on the first day. I immediately felt a connection, not so much with manuscripts and letters, but with the books in her personal library. It was almost as if they were reaching out to me and I have felt obligated to write this literary life ever since.

I have also been inspired by talking to other fans of her Just William stories and reading their letters. These stories have been important to them at key moments in their lives.

Jane McVeigh is Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton, UK. She teaches for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. She is the author of In Collaboration with British Literary Biography: Haunting Conversations (Palgrave 2017). She blogs on

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